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February 21, 2012 > Caretaking history

Caretaking history

By Nisha Patel

On Sunday, February 26 the Coyote Hills East Bay Regional Park will be hosting a caretaking event at a protected Ohlone Native American site. Volunteers will be able to gather willow branches for the thatched roof, plant fresh greenery for the tips of the sunshade structures, and remove nonnative and invasive vegetation in the area. The park's primary goal is to provide information about the site, and give the local community an opportunity to experience a part of the 2,000 year-old history of human habitation in the Fremont area.

A portion of this site was excavated by archaeologists between the 1930s and 1960s; collected objects were carefully removed and studied. These archaeologists were able to dig holes around and within the area without damaging the site. Archaeology stopped shortly after the East Bay Regional Park took over the land as a part of their park's attraction.

Former supervising naturalist, Norm Kidder, had envisioned making structures that were based on the lifestyle of Native Americans in California in the central regions of the state, using details of what was known about Ohlone house building. He dreamed of the potential creation of structures to make the culture more real, and bring the significance of the site to life. Kidder actually began the process in the 1980s.

Using a drawing of a dome-shaped house that was built in Monterey in 1891, naturalists know the approximate size and shape of the structures, as well as many building materials that were used in its construction. Although they have tried to recreate Ohlone structures, some details have been borrowed from other areas as well. For example, one of the structures is a model of a sweathouse created by the Ohlones for the people to prepare for hunting both spiritually and physically. Within the sweathouse, heat would cause the body to sweat, and a tool would be used to scrape sweat from bodies. The Ohlones would then swim in a cold stream, returning to repeat the process.

A sunshade for those who would work outdoors and poles along to hold up a thatched roof are part of the re-creation. Within these and other structures, Ohlones played games, told stories, and lived their lives.

The East Bay Regional Park District takes its duty to protect and preserve this site seriously but understands that visitors need access to it as a place to learn about the Ohlone culture that pre-dated other settlers. Although fenced with a locked gate, school group programs visit the site to learn about Ohlone cultures and various other programs open the site to the public on weekends.

When asked to describe what local members of the community could do to help, Coyote Hills naturalist and current volunteer coordinator Beverly Ortiz stated, "[We need] to preserve the intricacy, beauty, and elegance of Ohlone and other central California ways of building structures of the past. We need people to help caretake, people to introduce the European plants of the area, and people to help make [the site] feel as if the structures are cared about."

At the event, volunteers are welcome to come clean the site, thatch the sunshade, and further restore the site to preserve local Ohlone history. The parking fee will be waived for all volunteers. All participants will meet at the front gate at the starting time of the program, and from there, carpool to the site. Snacks and water will be provided. Volunteers must be at least 12 years-old, and all volunteers under the age of 18 are required to have a parent sign the volunteer permission form.

Ortiz said, "Caretaking of the site shows our way of respecting the theme of the site. What is shared about the cultures does true justice to the elegance and beauty, of the biodegradable and comfortable spaces that the Ohlones were able to create."

Village site caretaking
Sunday, Feb 26
10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Coyote Hills East Bay Regional Park
8000 Patterson Ranch Road, Fremont
(510) 544-3220

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